Monday, April 29, 2013

Churches Then and Now

Those mighty cathedrals of the Middle Ages were built over the centuries by architects, stone masons, sculptors, stained glass artists, and hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers and labourers. In addition to seeking wages today, the workers sought an eternal reward tomorrow.

Today's equivalent is the sports arena or stadium, but with no spiritual solace in the offing.  A piece of recent history. In 1974, Metro Council was promised that the proposed SkyDome could be built "at no burden to the taxpayer." The original cost of $225-million ballooned to $650-million. When the building was later sold to Rogers Communications at a distressed price, the loss was borne by city and provincial taxpayers.

These projects are cash cows for billionaire team owners, and provide a playground for millionaire athletes. Promoters promise, not an eternal reward, as in the Middle Ages but, a debt-free money-maker for the municipality. To realize this dream, the citizen must participate by shouldering most of the cost and all of the responsibility for the debt so created.

The promoter convinces the municipality, in this case the City of Edmonton, to create a "Community Revitalization Levy" or some such subtle tax increase device. He points out that additional funds are available from the province through the "Municipal Sustainability Initiative," a program intended to fund municipal infrastructure and not a place of entertainment. If the project turns sour, the promoter can simply declare the bankruptcy of his participating company and walk away.

A similar shell game is playing out in Markham on Toronto's northern boundary. There, the province is not involved. Any shortfall in revenue will be picked entirely up by the local taxpayer.

Such projects come with no promise of eternal reward, but too often produce eternal debt, indeed a financial hell on earth.

Who Really Needs Instant News?

Before the Second World War, people received news on the radio perhaps at noon and around six o'clock. Once the war started, people demanded more news and more often. The hourly newscasts began. The Globe and Mail came out in the morning, while the Evening Telegram and the Daily Star in the late afternoon. That seemed to suffice the need for news at that time before television and the Internet.

Then came the deluge of news reports.

According to Dr. Meir Kryger of the U.S, National Sleep Foundation, the current addiction to 24-hour new coverage is an enemy to mental health. "I got a big uptick in patients with insomnia right after 9/11," he said. "Looking at something over and over again is upsetting and interferes with sleep." His solution? "Turn off the bloody TV."

Another solution favours the print media to be read on our own time, not when the newscasters say we must have it. Even then, it need not be of breathless immediacy. In her February 23, 2013 column, Toronto Star Public Editor Kathy English wrote about the need for readers to know of events the instant they happened. My email to her. All quotes of Ms. English who did not reply.
Dear Kathy English: 
Tell me what recent "major breaking news" Star readers needed to know "instantaneously" and in "real time." What news items in today's paper do they need to know at all? What would they lose if they read today's paper tomorrow or next week?

Are readers worse off until the Star "updated in next-day stories and published corrections"? How were their lives affected by living in ignorance until corrections were published?
Do readers really need to know immediately "daily, first hand, live reports from citizens at the heart of the Arab Spring"? Explain how life would be different if they learned about these things the next day or next week. 
To use your example, did it matter that readers knew immediately the name of the Newton shooter, or his brother, or if they knew it at all? Ask your readers today if they still remember the shooter's name. Also ask what difference it made in their lives. 
There's a touch of journalistic grandiosity in all this.Yes, report news, real news, but spare the breathless immediacy.

War Propaganda and Afterwards

"The evil that men do lives after them." When Shakespeare put those words in the mouth of one of the assassins of Julius Caesar, he was speaking for all generations. In one way or another, the evil we have been taught lives in each of us. Some of it lives in me, however subconsciously.

In my defence, let me take you back to the dark, desperate days of the Second World War. This impressionable young boy living in downtown Toronto hears nothing but bad news. Every one on the street agrees it's all the fault of the Germans and the Japanese. Nazi Germany is rapidly taking over much of continental Europe. They are in Africa. Their submarines are sinking ships in Canadian waters.  England is about to be invaded.

Following their attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese are advancing in China and southeast Asia. Australia is bombed, and will soon be invaded. We hear that a Japanese ship destroyed a lighthouse on Vancouver Island. Other Japanese invade westernmost Alaska. Canadian soldiers, only a few years older than myself, are being killed in places no one on the street had ever before heard of, like Hong Kong. My school atlas tells us where it is.

Coming from a central European background, I knew what Germans looked like. And a German family lived across the street. They looked like us. But the Japanese were a different story. I had never seen one in my life. They were from a different world.

Because of the war, a war started by the Germans and Japanese, food is rationed: meat, butter, sugar, tea, coffee, gasoline, car tires. People talk about the black market. I see it as a very dark place where the rich can buy all the food and gasoline they want. The other black I hear about is blackout. When the sirens go off, men wearing white helmets with the letters A.R.P. (Air Raid Patrol) across the front walk the streets, telling us to turn off all our lights.

We are getting ready to be bombed by the Germans or the Japanese. I wasn't sure which enemy would get here first. I did not like the idea of my home getting destroyed. My 16-year-old friends must register with the government, to get them ready to join the military.

The tide slowly turns. Street talk is about air raids on the Germans. This pleases me because I feel it's better we bomb them than they bomb us. Because I don't know them. The relentless propaganda gets me and all my friends to loathe the Germans and the Japanese.

The Japanese, I am taught to despise absolutely. I am told, and I believe, they could commit every atrocity they are accused of: torture, killing unarmed soldiers, forced labour by prisoners, starvation, execution and sex slaves.

This anti-Japanese sentiment lingers so strongly in my mind that, one day some forty-five years later, as I enter a downtown department store, I stop cold. I stare wide-eyed at the enlarged Japanese face smiling down at me from the many banners scattered throughout the main floor. I am looking at the face of Alfred Sung, a Canadian fashion designer of Oriental descent. His products are being featured by the store.

But what fills memory's eye is the smiling face I vividly remember from many anti-Japanese propaganda films, comic books and magazines. It's the face of that pilot machine-gunning innocent civilians fleeing the invading Japanese army. It is the face of that Japanese officer about to torture a prisoner. It is the face my generation was taught to hate.

War propaganda taught us to hate the face of the blond German soldier, the one whose mouth wears a perpetual sneer, one who even in defeat flaunted a false sense of superiority.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The good news is two-fold. I like to think that all of my generation knows it was brainwashed. And that life's experience has taught us how to deal with it, and to accept everyone equally. The other good news is that just as young minds can be taught hate, they can be taught love and caring and understanding. Let us pray that is what we all, friends and foe, give to the next generation.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Assisted Suicide and Other Forms of Death

Email to Ken Gallinger, Toronto Star Ethics writer, commenting on his April 12, 2013, endorsement of assisted suicide.

A report on assisted suicide requires a more balanced approached than you have presented. It must include safeguards against abuse such as pressure from inheritance-hungry children, family caretakers exhausted from rendering care. Examining the death in bed of a senior, the first thing the police check for is saliva on a pillow. If they find it, a murder investigation begins.This is not "high-sounding moral opinion" but basic common sense.

Also to be considered are the possibility of temporary insanity, depression, financial disappointment, marriage break-up, loss of a loved one, and other reasons some bordering on the frivolous. A healthy woman joined her ill husband in a Swiss suicide because she did not want to live without him.Other frivolous reasons await, and are described in my blog essay Death with Debt-Free Dignity.

"To throw every available resource at staving it off" means outside intervention. You must describe those resources, how they would be applied, and in what time frame. In any event, this application would require some delay in the suicide process. How long would you advocate?

A recent report tells of hundreds of urns containing human remains being found at the bottom of Lake Zurich. Indications are they originated with Dignitas, a business that has made that country the suicide capital of the world. The relatives of the deceased did not care enough to have the remains brought home.

As for the disabled opposing assisted suicide, is it the pressures mentioned in my opening paragraph that they fear? Your comparison with abortion is inappropriate, the vast majority of which are done against a healthy child in a healthy mother. The child is destroyed because its existence would prove inconvenient. The taking of any life, be it through abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, assisted suicide or war, cheapens all life.

Assisted suicide cannot be played two ways. One must offer unconditional assisted suicide on demand, or not. In the latter case, conditions must be clearly stated.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Home-Grown Alienation

A letter published in the Toronto Star, April 9, 2013

Re How to grow a terrorist, Apr. 6:

In this report, various opinions are expressed as to the nature of social alienation felt by young Muslims.That of CSIS director Richard Fadden comes the closest to the truth. He said, "If you take someone who is slightly disenchanted and inclined to think the west is not very good, and you put them in with these people, the next thing you know you want people to do violence."

One need not be Muslim to be disenchanted with our society.

Any reasonably honed social conscience objects to our culture of death as seen in our abortion rates, the demand for euthanasia and assisted suicide, government insensitivity, permanent battle-ready status, corporate greed, destruction of the environment, employee oppression, market manipulation, pornography in the media and places of entertainment, tax evasion by the rich, justice not always seen to be done if done at all, and so on and on.

The inability to do anything to improve such matters renders anyone, especially if unemployed, vulnerable to advocates of violence.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Justice at a Price

Justice may be blind. Need our courts be?

In 2003, a citizen laid a complaint of assault under the Police Services Act. A police adjudicator dismissed the complaint.  The citizen then sued for unlawful arrest, use of unnecessary force, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. The lawsuit was dismissed prior to trial. He appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal which upheld the dismissal.

The appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada reversed the decision of Ontario's highest court in no uncertain terms. In April 2013, the Supreme Court found that the use of the civilian complaints process was "a serious affront to basic principles of fairness." The initial lawsuit may proceed.

Two salient features emerge from this so-far ten-year proceeding.

1. The Ontario Court of Appeal did not recognize "a serious affront to basic principles of fairness."

2. Justice belongs to those with the financial resources and the patience to appeal to higher jurisdictions.